I remember typing that into a search engine back when we started our pilot missional community two years ago. I was intrigued about the idea of families, including kids, being together in community to follow Jesus. What I found on-line mostly encouraged me, and we started off by including kids in everything. In a minute, I’ll share where we’ve landed – but our early efforts just seemed to confirm that it was a good idea. With “Up” times, the youth were able to hold their own in the Bible studies. Little kids, well, they were a bit of a distraction. But we chipped in and arranged child care for those nights. Problem solved (mostly). And all generations participated in worship. The “In” times were not problem, because they generally centered on food – and our food was – and sill is – awesome! But during the “Out” times is where having children and youth with us made the biggest difference. As I recall, we did a food drive. There’s something disarming about a kid knocking on the door asking someone to fill a bag for hungry folks. I remember going out with my friend Alan and his cute six year old daughter, Reagan. We came to one house and the garage door was open. Alan’s little girl walked toward the front door. Just then, a man stepped out of the garage, but he hadn’t seen Reagan.
We said, “Hi! We’re doing a food drive. We’d like to drop this bag off – if you could fill it with non- perishables, we’ll be back around to pick it up tomorrow afternoon.”
He said, kind of gruffly, “Uh, we really don’t have anything for you. We don’t do this sort of thing. We’re really busy and, uh…”
About that time, Reagan walked back into sight. He looked over at her and it completely broke his train of thought.
Reagan walked right up to this man, put out her arms, and wrapped them around him in a hug. He was struck silent. Alan and I were amazed. He looked over at us and said, “So, umm, cans and rice and that sort of thing?”
We said, “Uh, yeah, that’s what we need.”
“I’ll have the bag full for you tomorrow.”
No doubt about it – having kids with you on the missional community journey is a great idea.
But in our context, we needed something more.
When we started FCMC, we knew that most parents would really want their kids in children’s programs and youth groups. And while we went back and forth on it for a while, I must admit that “those parents” include me and my wife. We wanted both. We wanted our kids to be a part of this journey with our missional community. And, especially for our teenagers, we wanted them to be a part of a youth group. As former youth workers, we can rehearse some of the benefits: peers, friendships, small group Bible study, great role models, positive activities, cool adults who are interested in them, opportunities for high energy worship, the chance to go to camp, mission trips, etc.
We can also rehearse some of the problems that generationally segregated ministries create. But what were we to do as we started a church of missional communities?
The answer ended up being not very hard: We decided to encourage our kids go to children’s programs youth groups in traditional churches.
And that has been a huge help. In our own family, we have four kids. One in college and three who are youth group age. They are all different. Seth goes to Faith Community Church where they have a smallish group of twenty or so kids who love to go deep and focus on discipleship. That group is great fit for Seth. Jared likes a crowd and is involved in two larger youth groups – one at Mandarin Presbyterian Church and the other at River of Life UMC. Sarah, our middle schooler, has a good group of friends who also go to youth group at River of Life. Really, we couldn’t more pleased. They are having a positive youth ministry experience. Better, I think, than they would have had if they had to all go to the same group.
By the way, it has also checked any temptation to think less of traditional churches. We are blessed by the traditional churches around us and want to bless them. (It’s part of our mission statement – to bless other churches.)
But we had to get over one thing. We felt a little guilty that they were in churches that we weren’t actively supporting. Our old paradigm had to break. We supported a church, led a church, and required faithful attendance at those churches activities – because that is what we believed good church members (and leaders) did. But then I remember my days as a youth worker. We always welcomed kids however they came to us. Always. Whether their parents were in the church or not didn’t matter. And good news – that’s still how youth groups operate. So our kids have been welcomed – wonderfully welcomed. And a side benefit for us is that we have gotten to know a good many youth leaders in Jacksonville. Our kids are helping to bless and build youth ministries in our community and those groups encourage missional living. And it has been good for our family and it has taken pressure off our missional community in terms of always trying to include kids.
These days, the kids of our families still participate. We love each other’s kids. The adults in our MC know and love the kids in our MC. But mainly, the kids come to our big group gatherings, especially involve worship. And they help us in mission – that’s pretty natural. We don’t really try to include them in discipleship so much, and that has allowed our discipling conversations to go deeper – to be more adult. And that’s good for us, too. But most importantly, we’re still engaged enough with our kids. They are on this journey with us as we follow Jesus together.
So, about those problems with generationally segregated ministries… The biggest drawback to that kind of ministry, in my opinion, is that kids don’t get to walk with their parents as they follow Jesus. They don’t see following Jesus modeled very much by the people in their families. And that’s one very big reason that kids quit the church and the faith after high-school. They don’t have an example to follow. Well, having our kids with us on this missional community journey definitely addresses that challenge.
May the Lord bless you on your journey!